Vendors Form Web Business Consortium

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A bevy of technology vendors last week set a new industry consortium in motion, pledging that the nonprofit group will serve as a think tank to advise end-user companies on how to build Web-based commerce and business systems.

Analysts said the Portland, Ore.-based group, formed by eight vendors, including IBM, Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp. and SAP AG, could fill an important services gap if it garners wide industry support and avoids partisan bickering.

Membership to the organization, called the Business Internet Consortium (BIC), will be free for user firms. Joining the BIC will give users access to information on the group's best practices for implementing new technologies and to other reference materials.

Dwight Davis, an analyst at Summit Strategies Inc. in Boston, voiced concerns about whether a vendor-based organization could address technology challenges in a nonpartisan way. "There is a need out there, but will the consortium be able to pick and choose the appropriate targets without going into the dangerous realm of favoring one vendor's product over another's?" he asked.

In addition, the BIC's giving end users access to its methodologies for implementing new technologies may present a conflict of interest for members in the systems integration business, Davis added.

"We're not trying to usurp the role that analysts or systems integrators have," countered Keith Uebele, director of e-business architecture marketing at Intel. "But I think [end-users] will have more to gain if we work together on things like best practices."

Joining the Party

Thus far, about 25 technology vendors and five end-user firms, including Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich., and Capital One Financial Corp. in Falls Church, Va., have joined the BIC. San Francisco-based financial services firm Charles Schwab Corp. also joined the consortium, to help ensure that the technology vendors focus on practical technology implementations, said Neal Goldstein, senior vice president of architecture and planning at Charles Schwab.

"If you look at individual technologies, they're all great. But when they interact, they don't look so good," said Goldstein. "What we're really looking to do is herd a bunch of cats into a mile-long conga line."

"The consortium seems like an admirable undertaking, but some key players are missing," said Geoffrey Bock, an analyst at Patricia Seybold Group in Boston. "Organizations take time to develop, to get educated and grow up."

Top e-commerce vendors such as Ariba Inc., BEA Systems Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. aren't members of the organization at this time.

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